ATENEO BLUE EAGLES
(Third of an eight-part series)
Elimination round record last year: 11-3 (Lost to National University in the Final Four)
Key holdovers: Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, Arvin Tolentino, Fonzo Gotladera
Key losses: Chris Newsome, Nico Elorde
Newcomers: Jerie Pingoy, Hubert Cani, Chibueze Ikeh, Mike Nieto, Matt Nieto, Adrian Wong, Isaac Go, Aaron Black.
AFTER topping the elimination round last year, Ateneo suddenly fell back to earth as it lost to National University in the Final Four despite holding a twice-to-beat advantage as the No. 1 team.
This year, nothing has changed as the Blue Eagles are still considered the top contenders in Season 78 of the UAAP.
Spin.ph takes a look again at five questions facing Ateneo this season.
We all know what Ravena can do on the floor for the Blue Eagles but head coach Bo Perasol is looking for leadership in the reigning Most Valuable Player this season when he plays his final year for the school.
On his way to winning the MVP plum, Ravena averaged 21.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.5 steals for the team. Those numbers, however, were not enough as the top-seeded Blue Eagles were ambushed by eventual champion Bulldogs in the semis.
Perasol feels Ravena’s leadership qualities and how he can influence the team will play a big factor if Ateneo will go to the next level.
“Ang hinihintay ko sa kanya is kung papaano niya ma-iinspire ‘yung iba,” Perasol said. “’Yung attributes sa court, gagawin at gagawin niya pero alam naman natin na kulang ‘yun. Kailangang ma-inspire niya ‘yung mga kasama niya para mai-angat ‘yung level ng game niya.
‘Yung contribution na ‘yun, ‘yung influence mo, will have more impact than his MVP last year.”
2. Are Jerie Pingoy and Hubert Cani good as advertised?
Is recruiting Pingoy and Cani worth it? Perasol definitely thinks so.
Pingoy’s move from Far Eastern University high school to Ateneo was met with controversy as it sparked the implementation of a two-year residency for high school graduates transferring to a different UAAP college.
“He has the potential pero siyempre, we have to give him time dahil bata pa siya. But I really believe in him. Naniniwala ako na he has what it takes to be aggressive on offense at maging pesky sa defense. That’s why we recruited him.
Meanwhile, Cani is also in the same predicament as Pingoy. This time though, Cani could possibly play following the enactment into law of the Student-Athletes Protection Act.
“Hindi pa niya alam dahil hanggang ngayon, naghihintay pa rin siya. Pero bata pa siya. I know kung hindi ngayon, in the years to come, makikita mo ‘yung potential niya,” said Perasol.
3. How will the loss of Chris Newsome make a difference?
The Blue Eagles lost Newsome and Nico Elorde as the two already finished their collegiate eligibility.
Perasol sees their absence, especially of Newsome, of having a big impact to the team’s campaign this year.
“We have versatility nung nandoon si New (Newsome) dahil he can play from 1 to 4,” said Perasol.
With Newsome and Elorde out, the Ateneo head coach said their absence could bring some sort of uncertainty on who will be in the team’s rotation.
“Hindi ko malaman kung sino ang bubunutin ko. Last year, alam ko na may Newsome, may Elorde. Dahil lahat sila may potential, laging testing the waters lagi. Hindi ko kilala sila totally pagdating sa ganitong level, kung ano ang kakayahan nila pagdating sa ganito,” said Perasol.
The Ateneo coach will also be leaning on the team’s rookies led by Pingoy, Cani, and Chibueze Ikeh, the first African to make it to the Blue Eagles’ line-up, to make up for the veterans’ loss.
“Given na ‘yung magagawa ni Kiefer, si Von (Pessumal) steady na siya. ‘Yung contribution nila Koko (Pingoy), Hubert Cani, and even si Ikeh, ‘yun ang magiging critical.”
4. Outside Kiefer, who will deliver among the holdovers?
Perasol putting Ravena and Pessumal in the same breath proves a lot on how Pessumal's role will be relied upon for this year’s campaign.
Known for his three-point accuracy after leading the team in conversions last year, Pessumal is seen as having a breakout season with the third-year wingman expected to play a starting role with most of the veterans no longer with the team.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year Arvin Tolentino, Gwyne Capacio, and Fonzo Gotladera will are also key figures in Ateneo’s campaign.
5. Is Ateneo the team to beat this year?
Last season, Ateneo finished first place at the end of the eliminations only to be booted out early in the Final Four.
But even with the absence of veterans like Newsome, many still feels Ateneo still has what it takes to play in the finals. Experts even see the Blue Eagles battling the Far Eastern University Tamaraws for the title.
Perasol agrees FEU will be there as one of the favored teams, without taking for granted other teams, especially those who made the Final Four last year.
“Malakas sa akin ang FEU. Siyempre defending champion ang NU at hindi rin patatalo ang La Salle. ‘Yung nandoon sa Final Four, palagay ko matibay pa sila at mas malakas dahil one year better,” said the former PBA coach.
As to his team, Perasol said the health of Ateneo will be a determining factor to its fortunes this year.
“Bottom line is maging healthy lang kami palagay ko may chance kami. When it comes to match-up sa ibang teams, that’s another story,” said Perasol.